Lebbencs soup (Lebbencsleves)

This centuries-old noodle soup harks back to the countryside folks of eastern Hungary in and around the town of Debrecen. Lebbencs refers to huge sheets of paper-thin dough they'd roll and then dry in the pantry. As needed for the daily cooking, they’d chip off bits from it. The foundation of this simple but rewarding soup is rendered szalonna in which the lebbencs is lightly roasted. If you don’t have extra space in your pantry and can’t buy dried lebbencs in your local supermarket, don’t despair: cracking sheets of lasagne pasta works just as well.

Ingredients

Yield: 4-6 servings; Total time: 40 minutes

  • 150 grams (⅓ pound) smoked pork belly or fatback, cut into small cubes, about 1 cm (½-inch) long. Remove skin.

  • 1 onion, peeled and minced

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 1 ½ tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

  • 2 pinches of black pepper

  • 125 grams (¼ pound) dried pasta, ideally the flat and square-shaped Hungarian “csusza” but you can also use lasagne pasta, cracking the sheets into 1 ½-inch bits.

  • 3 medium potatoes (450 grams or 1 pound), cut into 2 cm (¾-inch) chunks

  • 1 ripe medium tomato, peeled and cut into very small pieces (or even better when puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)

  • 1 Hungarian wax pepper or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into very small pieces (or even better when puréed into smooth paste using an immersion blender)

  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

  • 1 ½ liters (1.6 quarts) water

Directions

  • Step 1: Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 Fahrenheit). Scatter the bits of pasta on a baking sheet and place in the oven to roast. They’re ready when golden brown, about 15 minutes.

  • Step 2: In the meantime, add the cubes of pork belly or fatback to a large pot and render the fat on medium-heat until meat turns golden-brown and crispy, about 8-10 minutes (you can also add the pork skin, if any, for a flavor boost and remove it at the end).

  • Step 3: Add onions to the pot and sauté until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

  • Step 4: Add minced garlic, small bits of tomato and yellow pepper, and season with paprika, salt, and pepper. Cover with 1 cup of water and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes.

  • Step 5: Add crisped-up pasta pieces from the oven and the potato chunks. Pour remaining of the 1 ½ liters (1.6 quarts) of warm water to cover them, then place lid on pot and let it cook at a brisk simmer until potatoes are soft but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and mix in chopped parsley (retain a bit for garnish).

  • Step 6: Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve the soup in individual bowls with a drizzle of parsley on top.

Words of advice

You can simplify this recipe by toasting the noodles directly in the pot alongside the onions, instead of using the oven. They won’t get as nicely browned but it gets the job done.

I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!